72-year-old retired nurse answers call to help out with S'pore's Covid-19 vaccination efforts

Ms Han Joke Moi at the vaccination centre in Potong Pasir Community Club, where she oversees a team of about 20 nurses. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - When the Singapore Nursing Board sent out a call for retired nurses to rejoin the profession this February, Ms Han Joke Moi did not hesitate, as she knew that the Republic was scaling up its Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Ms Han, who left the profession in 2019 after more than 50 years of service, knew that administering vaccines is not a task many are qualified to do.

In an interview with The Straits Times, the sprightly 72-year-old said: "There was a dear urgency to help because we want all our Singaporeans to be vaccinated.

"Not anyone can administer the vaccine. You have to correctly identify the deltoid muscles of the patient so the Covid-19 vaccine can be delivered intra-muscularly."

Ms Han has been with Thomson Medical for eight months, overseeing a team of about 20 nurses at its vaccination centre in Potong Pasir Community Club.

Her contributions have provided a booster shot to the Republic's healthcare system, which has come under significant strain amid the pandemic.

On Nov 1, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament that around 1,500 healthcare workers resigned in the first half of this year, compared with 2,000 annually before the pandemic.

"These resignations were mostly tendered for personal reasons, for migration, or moving back to their home countries," he added.

Last year, for the first time in more than two decades, Singapore experienced a drop in the number of nurses working here.

At the end of last year, there were a total of 42,096 nurses, 572 fewer than in 2019.

To recruit experienced nurses like Ms Han, some hospitals and clinics have started to offer a "finder's fee", which can range in the thousands, to staff who bring them in.

This is because it takes typically six months to train a new nurse and at least nine months for those specialising in intensive care unit work.

When the Singapore Nursing Board sent out a call for retired nurses to rejoin the profession this February, Ms Han Joke Moi did not hesitate. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

As part of her deployment with Thomson Medical, Ms Han keeps a watch over members of the public after they have received the vaccine.

She pays special attention to seniors, especially those who come to the vaccination centre alone.

Her job also involves teaching younger nurses how to reassure members of the public when they have doubts about the vaccine.

For instance, some of her staff were told by some people that they did not believe they were inoculated because they did not feel pain at the site of injection.

Ms Han said: "In order to resolve this, I teach the nurses, to first show them the amount of vaccine they draw out. We also show patients the empty syringe after (the injection) before discarding it."

Despite these encounters and logging 12-hour days at the centre sometimes as often as six times a week, she has no complaints.

"As a nurse, we have been on our feet all the time, so more or less we are used to it," said Ms Han, who is single and lives with her two sisters.

On Wednesday (Dec 1), the Ministry of Health will be closing four vaccination centres, including the one in Potong Pasir, given the good progress in the national vaccination programme.

Ms Han said: "After so many months of being together, now we have to leave, it's a sad parting."

With about 94 per cent of the eligible population having completed their full regimen of the Covid-19 vaccine, not all the staff at the centre will continue to work at the remaining two facilities run by Thomson Medical in Senja-Cashew and Bishan.

But Ms Han will be among those who stay. She said: "I want to do my part while I'm still able to."

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